From Baxter New Era, January 18, 1906


There is one man in the home who witnessed the sea fight in Hampton Roads, Virginia, between the "Monitor" and the confederate iron-clad ram, "Merrimac." This veteran is Mr. E. A. Goodwin, who served in the Ninety-ninth New York volunteers of New York city. He witnessed what he calls two of the most important events that occurred between March, 1861, and the surrender of Lee - the inauguration of President Lincoln and the battle already referred to. His regiment landed at Fortress Monroe about the 1st of June, 1861. On the 8th day of March, 1862, the members of the regiment saw a huge flat boat, with a French room, and this object proved to be the terrible Merrimac. Shortly afterward, the regiment was ordered under arms, in light marching order, to go to Newport News, eight miles distant; but before they arrived there, they heard the roar of guns, and met sailors who had escaped from the wrecked and sunken frigate "Cumberland" (wooden) and also from the frigate "Congress," which had been run ashore and set on fire, the Merrimac having practically destroyed both vessels. The sailors were on their way to the fort, and made the soldiers acquainted with the news of the disaster that had overtaken them. The brave officers and crew of the Cumberland did not surrender; but on the contrary, and the gun crews worked the guns until the water was knee-deep on the gun deck. Then they jumped overboard, and while many were drowned, others succeeded in swimming ashore, leaving old glory still flying at the mast-head when the Cumberland went down as a result of the ramming she received from the hands of the Merrimac. While the crews were swimming ashore, the confederates put out small boats, filled with sailors, to capture them, but the Yankee sharpshooters on shore began picking the confederates off, and they withdrew. The Merrimac then returned to Norfolk, Va. We felt sure that the fight would be renewed in the morning, but we did not feel much alarmed for we had heard about the Monitor. I was informed that she had left New York in tow of a transport, on Thursday, March 6, 1862, and would be on hand next morning. She arrived as was scheduled, and went alongside the frigate Minnesota, where she received her ammunition. (The Minnesota had started out the day before to take part in the battle, but had run aground and was helpless, there being a report to the effect that she had been run aground by the pilot who was suspected of being a confederate.)


On Sunday morning the Merrimac came steaming down from Norfolk, as important as if she were the "biggest thing" out; and she was in the way of an ironclad vessel. Accompanying her came several steamers, whose decks were crowded with spectators who wanted to see the Yankees whipped and taken in as prisoners. When the Merrimac came near the Minnesota she saw something slip out from behind the frigate, and its appearance amazed the Merrimac's officers and crew and the spectators. This "something" was the little Monitor, which the confederates called a "Yankee raft with a cheese box on it." In a few minutes the battle between the first two iron-clads in the world was on fast and furious. The Monitor circled around the Merrimac, seeking a vulnerable spot, giving shot after shot. The Merrimac did all she could to blow her antagonist out of the water, but her efforts were futile, the most serious thing that occurred being the wounding of Lieutenant Worden, commander of the Monitor, who was hit by a steel splinter as he was looking through a narrow slot in a conning tower. After the fight had been in progress two hours, the commander of the Merrimac decided to run down the "little whiffet" that was causing him so much trouble, and he started for the Monitor under a full speed of steam, and crowded upon her for a short distance, but was unable to make her acquainted with the bottom of the sea. As the Merrimac slid off the Monitior it caused the former to rock and, while she was rocking, the "whiffet" sent a ball into her below the armor that made a hole as large as a hogshead. "Then," says Mr. Goodwin, "you ought to have seen it "turn tail" and skidaddle back to Norfolk." The soldiers of Mr. Goodwin's regiment, who lined the shore, for miles from the scene of action, filled the air with loud huzzas. The advance of McClellan's army caused Norfolk to be evacuated by the confederates, and they removed all the armament of the Merrimac and started her for Richmond, but she ran aground and was set on fire and burned to the waters edge. Mr. Goodwin saw her burning and, as he says, "I witnessed the beginning and ending of the career of the Merrimac."

M. D. NAGLE Twelfth Iowa Cavalry